IS IT HEALTHY TO EAT before bed? That's a common question for dietitians to hear – and the answer depends on your own preferences, as well as what you ate throughout the day and whether or not you took in enough nutrients.
For some registered dietitian nutritionists, eating before bed doesn't suit. Jessica Spiro of Jessica Spiro Nutrition, for example, used to eat a bedtime snack but stopped when she realized it prevented her from waking up hungry and eating breakfast. "Now, unless I'm actually hungry, I 'close' the kitchen after dinnertime," she says. "Now, my body thanks me with a more restful night's sleep and an empty stomach when I wake up."
Joan Salge Blake, a clinical associate professor at Boston University and author of "Nutrition & You," also passes on an evening snack – though she didn't always. "I found that this daily habit began to wreak havoc on my weight," she says. There may be good reason for that: "Emerging research suggests that eating the bulk of your daily calories later in day and in the evening may be metabolized differently, making it more difficult to manage your weight than had you consumed your calories earlier in the day," Salge Blake adds.
But plenty of registered dietitian nutritionists find eating a bedtime snack is healthy for them. Here's what those professionals choose when nighttime hunger strikes:
8 foods nutritionists eat before bed
8 foods nutritionists eat before bed
Kathy Siegel, a nutrition consultant at TriadToWellness.com, chooses a 1-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds, which meets 35 percent of the recommended daily intake of magnesium. "Magnesium not only helps regulate blood pressure, blood sugar, and muscle and nerve function, but research has also shown that foods rich in magnesium, like pumpkin seeds, may help guide your body's sleep-wake cycles with melatonin to activate the area of your brain responsible for helping you stay calm and relaxed," Siegel says.
Sometimes it's not about what you eat, but rather about what you drink. "Around 8 or 9 p.m. each night, I enjoy a cup of herbal tea," says Samantha Cassetty, who's based in New York City. "I generally go for the dessert-inspired flavors, like ginger peach or apple cinnamon, and I also love ginger turmeric tea." Her habit isn't just for the cold winter months. "Even in the summer months, I find the ritual calming, so it helps set the stage for bedtime," Cassetty says. "I also find these flavors offset the desire for other sweets that don't leave me feeling as good."
Some nutritionists gauge their hunger to check if they're really hungry and need a snack. "Right before bed, if I'm feeling hungry, I'll have a small bowl of high-fiber cereal with whole cow's milk," says Malina Linkas Malkani, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and creator of the Wholitarian Lifestyle. "Eating a light snack that offers a satiating balance of fiber, protein and fat helps me sleep better and avoid excess late-night snacking on foods that don't promote my health," she explains.
Culinary and wellness dietitian Jessica Ivey chooses to eat a bedtime snack since it's another opportunity to get in some healthy nutrients for the day. Plus, she tends to eat dinner on the earlier side, so she's hungry again before bed. "Everyone's needs are different, but it's hard for me to sleep if I'm hungry, so for me, having an evening snack is essential for a good night of rest," says Ivey, who chooses walnuts for heart-healthy omega-3s and melatonin, Greek yogurt for calcium and vitamin D or a spoonful of peanut butter for a good mix of protein, fat and fiber to regulate blood sugar.
A Glass of Milk
When Lauren Manaker of NutritionNowCounseling.com is feeling a little hungry, she likes to drink a small cup of 2-percent milk before bed. "The combination of protein, carbohydrate and fat keeps me satisfied. Also, milk is a source of the amino acid tryptophan that helps boost serotonin levels and plays a role in sleep regulation," Manaker says. And let's not count out the extra boost of calcium milk provides, which helps Manaker reach her quota of calcium-rich foods by the end of the day.
Greek Yogurt and Nuts
Toby Smithson, author of "Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies," has diabetes and must eat a bedtime snack to keep her blood sugar steady. "Greek yogurt and nuts at bedtime is a perfect mix of carbohydrate, protein and healthy fats," she says. "Since I follow a vegetarian diet, I strategically choose to have a source of protein to help assure adequate protein in my diet."
Julie Lichtman, who's based in Philadelphia, opts for frozen grapes as her go-to late night snack. "They are the perfect amount of sweetness and taste like sorbet bites," she says. "I am a huge believer of listening your own body's cues and satisfying cravings – at all hours," she explains. "The trick is finding balance and not overindulging – especially late at night."
When the evening munchies hit Cheryl Mussatto, who lives in Osage City, Kansas, she typically chooses popcorn. "Popcorn is the perfect food for satisfying and soothing my need for something crunchy, lightly salted and filling," Mussatto says. "I also know that this whole-grain, guilt-free food not only provides fiber, but also polyphenols that act as antioxidants, reducing inflammation. Lay off loading it up with butter, sugar or too much salt, and you've got yourself one of the very best snack foods nature provides."